You Don’t Have to Pay Dues to Be a Weight-Watcher

May 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

 basal metabolism; noun; Physiology: The minimal amount of energy necessary to maintain respiration, circulation, tissue repair, and other vital bodily functions while at rest. 

The jury is in on this one: A person’s metabolic rate begins to slow as early as age 20, with incrementally increasing decreases each successive decade. Did that make sense? On an individual-by-individual basis, many factors influence this decline – things like activity levels, conscious efforts to maintain muscle mass, certain medical conditions, and heredity. But I am aware of very few people who can simply continue “eating like a teenager,” as one friend put it, and still fend off creeping weight gain or an expanding waistline along the way to retirement. 

There are some things that can help, however, if you’ve decided to gear up for a battling of the bulge on both of its fronts, calorie intake and calorie expenditure. These are the ones I’ve tried and found true.

Set concrete goals, but make them measurable and realistic; something you can face taking on today. Sometimes this means aiming for a non-intimidating five-pound weight reduction on your way to deciding on a larger long-term loss, and it’s as much about holding yourself accountable, expecting what can reasonably be expected of a busy, responsible adult, as it is about meeting anyone else’s standard of what’s “ideal” for you. 

Keep a daily record of what you consume and what you do. To quote the old Christmas song, “Though it’s been said many times, many ways,” this is the best tool I know of for staying aware of and in control of what’s really going on with your habits. We sometimes delude ourselves about our indulgences, but that’s harder to do when the fettuccine alfredo with hot buttered garlic bread is documented in black and white, right there next to the greasy thumb print. 

And don’t forget the activity record, which can be a supreme motivator. Somehow, recording your accomplishment – “walk, 45 minutes, 3 miles” – feels very affirming, not to mention firming. It also lays a foundation for building your own personalized routine. 

Plan ahead to avoid pitfalls. I always know at the start of the day what I’ll be eating for lunch and dinner that day, and sometimes for several days in advance. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but not planning for success (as in, “I can arrange to be in the neighborhood of a Subway shop at noon, where I’ll have a turkey on wheat bread with lots of veggies,” vs, “Oh, whaddaya’ know! It’s lunchtime and here’s a Godfather’s pizza with a pepperoni and extra-cheese special today,”) translates into setting yourself up for failure

Choose movement over inactivity whenever possible, and that can even apply to watching television. My mother-in-law has a smallish residence, so her stationary bike is parked in her living room. That’s a great idea for anybody. Space permitting, you could even consider relocating your treadmill to the family room. How much better will you feel having spent an hour casually cycling or strolling your way through an episode of The Closer than you will if you get sucked into the couch cushions for a two-hour-movie-with-buttered-popcorn-and-a-beer session? 

Or simply ditch a few hours of television every day in favor of some other form of relaxation, like gardening or making bread, and you could easily work off that baked potato with fat-free sour cream you had, or will have, for dinner. This applies to other chair-sitting activities as well, of course, but for a multitude of reasons, sitting in front of the television may be one of the least kind things you do to your body – and your brain. Not only do we tend to zone out and snack mindlessly when our attention is riveted and our hands have nothing to occupy them, but the calorie-burn racked up by punching buttons on the remote is, well, nonexistent. 

Gotta have your American Idol or Dancing With the Stars fix? No room for workout equipment? Wash dishes, polish shoes, iron, dust, do anything else while you’re glued to the set and you’ll offset some of the damage that merely sitting there mesmerized inflicts on you. If you’re caught up on the household chores – you show-off, you – then do some push-ups on the arm of the couch or some leisurely sit-ups and lunges, and make the TV your friend instead of your enemy.

Line up an accountability partner, if you find you need support in order to get and stay committed. This can be anyone you trust to have your best interests, and not their own agenda, in mind. If it’s someone who is willing to layer up and strap on snow shoes or cross-country skis or walking boots, or suit up and go for a swim, all the better. But as easy as it is to lie to ourselves, or push “getting started” onto tomorrow’s to-do list, someone who will lovingly nudge you to stay on track toward your goal of lifelong vitality and waist management can be the rudder that keeps you on course. 

Get plenty of sleep, and do it consistently rather than sporadically. You’ve read that here before, but it is a commonly disregarded element that is as essential to weight control as it is to overall good health. Lack of sleep wreaks havoc with the hormones that control your hunger signals and stimulates the hormones that cause you to store belly fat. How much more pleasant a prescription can you ask for than the prescription to get plenty of shut-eye? Sleep deficits obviously also leave us more tired and less energetic, so we sit more. Not good for anybody’s health, well-being, or scale-conquering efforts.

Ironically, the same lethargy syndrome applies to those who get too much sleep. My theory on this one is that while expending energy actually stimulates and trains your body to generate more energy, the same principle applies in reverse to lazing about: The less you do, the less your body feels “revved” for action, and the more it feels steered toward inaction. It’s the old principle of inertia. “A body in motion,” and all that jazz.

Don’t Mountain Dew yourself in. As little as one or two cans of pop – or Empty Calorie Non-Thirst-Quenchers, as I like to call them – can really sabotage any other efforts you may be making to improve your dietary habits. Even diet pop has its drawbacks, since the artificial sweetener can fool your body into dumping extra insulin into your system and set you up for sweets cravings you wouldn’t normally have.

Ever wonder why today’s teenagers are toting around spare tires that their parents didn’t develop until middle-age? Carbonated soft drinks are currently the single biggest source of calories in the American diet, according to researchers. Add to that list nutritionally vacuous desserts camouflaged as Designer Coffees, and you can be in trouble before lunchtime ever rolls around.

Hooked on pop? Try a nice big glass of carbonated water with a good splash of orange juice or a squeeze of fresh lime for flavor. Refreshing, thirst-satisfying, and nutritionally sound.

Slow down, smell the coffee, and chew the fat. Literally. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that gulping down your food without savoring it isn’t a very satisfying experience. Ask any dog owner. And taking large bites seems to go hand-in-hand, or fork-in-mouth, with the bad habit of not applying enough chews to each mouthful. Rushing things also deprives us of wringing the fullest measure of pleasure from those wonderful food-generated aromas that pull us into the kitchen before dinner to ask what’s cookin’.

Physiologically speaking, the longer you can grind some flavor out of that morsel of roast chicken with your molars, the more chance your body and brain have to register satiety and the more your senses will be gratified. And isn’t that what eating should be about?

Learn the difference between good fat and bad fat. Bad fat, as we all know, is the kind that hangs over your belt or tests the capacity of your new stretch jeans. It is also the kind that ribbons its way through that juicy Porterhouse you had at your last birthday celebration.

One tablespoon from any source adds 100 calories to anything it permeates, so do keep that fact in mind. But dietary fat is essential to your body’s proper functioning: it helps deliver essential nutrients; it can help you feel full longer; and it’s a good source of energy, especially for those following a low-carbohydrate regimen. As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet – that is, weaning yourself off Burger King Double Whoppers at 900 calories and 57 grams of fat each, and fries cooked in overused, days-old saturated oils – using moderate amounts of  fat from vegetable sources and natural, low-sugar nut butters is a fine idea.

And how nice not to have to give up buttered toast. Just make it a true whole-grain, for belly-filling fiber, with a modest schmear of peanut butter, and you’ll have met two dietary goals at once.

Eschew a “family-style” approach to dining. This does not mean you have to eat alone, just that you should keep the big, brimming serving bowls off the table whenever possible. True, eating at home precludes having hidden, undesirable ingredients show up in your main dish and on your inner thighs. But when a second helping beckons from the platter right there in front of you, it can be way too easy to help yourself to more of the good stuff than you need. We usually take that second plateful before the one we just ate even has a chance to register with our brains and or enter our bloodstreams.

Out of sight, out of mind may not fully apply here, but you give your willpower a definite leg-up when you leave the serving dishes in the kitchen. And with those second helpings stowed as leftovers in the fridge, you save yourself some food prep time for another night this week, a night when you might otherwise end up at the Spaghetti Factory.

According to the charts, my own basal metabolism (or “energy expended to simply exist each day”) rate has reduced by over 200 calories since I was 21. But knowing that we all face the same challenge makes me feel empowered, as if I’m not plundering through this particular maze in the dark, alone and frustrated. There is strength in those numbers, and surely we shall overcome. I’m willing to bet my last cliché on it.

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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